The Art of Light is a travelling retrospective exhibition, first staged as an intervention into the permanent collection of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in 2018. Spanning decades and mediums, it features some of Clarke's major contributions to contemporary art: his freestanding stained glass screens – advancing the technical and poetic potential of the medium, and its role as portable art – and his art-historically significant 'leadworks', monumental inversions of the basic principles of stained glass. The exhibition, adapted to each venue and growing on each leg of its world tour, includes selections from his series of drawings and paintings Night Orchids, together with sketchbooks covering five decades of output, and a biographical vitrine displaying personal items from Clarke's childhood through to the present day. With this showcase of ‘the most considerable artistic and technical breakthrough’ in its thousand-year history, stained glass will never be the same again. Exhibited across two floors of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York in 2020–21, The Art of Light is scheduled to go on display at Zaha Hadid's Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul, and after at The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.
“'Brian Clarke: The Art of Light' is about emotional intensity, about the ability of material and light to explore what it is to be human. Two broad themes are brought out in the two galleries, both of which relate to the extraordinary times we are in. The gallery of works in lead are to do with mortality, with memory, grief and loss. The associated suite of Night Orchid paintings adds a physicality to the room, a sensuousness that embodies the cycle of life, death, and rebirth that is fundamental to nature. The gallery of glass screens collectively generates a euphoria and sense of hope. While each screen has a specific subject matter, the transillumination—the flow of colored light—has a spiritual sense of optimism. Taken as a whole, the exhibition is about life and loss, about the closeness of joy and grief in these strangest of times.” – Paul Greenhalgh, curator.
“There is a world that can only be seen through stained glass. It is like no other. The range of experience I can deliver through it is greater than anything I’ve known in my life. Many of the greatest artists have been intensely involved with stained glass—Mondrian, Matisse, Albers, Cocteau, De Kooning, Le Corbusier, Richter. I believe the medium has the potential to have the same kind of uplifting impact on our urban engagement as it had on architecture in the 15th century. I want to surpass the Middle Ages, not equal them. This exhibition demonstrates that stained glass has an authority and potential to deal with every human condition.” – Brian Clarke